The phrase "(to be) filled with the Spirit" is used in both the Old and New Testaments multiple times (see references in Does the expression "(to be) filled with the Spirit" denote a temporary experience or a permanent state of being?).

Paul uses this phrase in Ephesians 5:18:

18 And do not get drunk with wine, in which there is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to our God and Father; 21 and subject yourselves to one another in the fear of Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-21 NASB)

However, Paul uses a similar wording in Ephesians 3:19:

14 For this reason I bend my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner self, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19 NASB)

Question: What is the difference between "being filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18) and "being filled up to all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:19)?

Some possibilities I see:

  • Both phrases refer to progressive sanctification (same meaning).
  • Both phrases refer to a concrete spiritual experience (same meaning).
  • Ephesians 5:18 refers to a concrete spiritual experience, whereas Ephesians 3:19 refers to progressive sanctification (different meanings).

Related questions

  • 2
    I see your choice #3 as the best interpretation. The phrase "Filled with the Spirit" can be found through scripture representing a specific experience. Traced precisely back to the Acts 2 story of Pentecost as also foreshadowed repeatedly over hundreds of years by the Ancient Jewish feast of the Pentecost. holyspirit.ewrc.me --- The Ephesians 3 passage on the other hand can be seen in context as not so much an particular experience but as encompassing the entire growth and development process of the Christian life. blueletterbible.org/tools/MultiVerse.cfm?s=0045jj
    – Gamer7
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 18:51
  • 1
    @Gamer7 - would you be willing to turn this comment into an answer so I may upvote it :-) ?
    – user38524
    Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 11:52
  • thanks for the intention. I haven't frequented this site often enough to know how to turn a comment into an answer. I'm not even sure where to answer, maybe it's too late? Either way I shared the Q&A here: tumblr.com/socialnetlive/696536201341140992/…
    – Gamer7
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 8:57

4 Answers 4


I agree with the large majority of the excellent answer already given by Dottard. Since the OP requested a variety of perspectives, I'll add a few thoughts.

  • Being filled with the Spirit is not a one time event. Acts 2:1-4 & Acts 4:31 are a useful example (as discussed in this post) of people who were filled with the Spirit more than once. Being filled with the Spirit is frequently associated with receiving knowledge and/or power from God. The Book of Acts shows the Lord's representatives needed this on many occasions.
  • Being filled with the Spirit does not guarantee being filled up to all the fullness of God (e.g. compare Saul in 1 Samuel 10:10 with his ultimate, apostate fate).
  • Being filled up to all the fullness of God is a process that is the intended result of the ministry of Christ and His servants. Consider the following from Ephesians 4:

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

The listed officers are appointed by God to carry out the ministry and aid in accomplishing the results described. Perfecting believers and unity in the faith are clearly a work-in-process, not single, completed events on the timeline. The use of "grow" implies progress over time, not immediate change. The standard we are expected to measure up to is Christ Himself! Paul indicates that we can get there, but we aren't there yet.

What does "the fulness of Christ" refer to? I suggest two passages are particularly relevant in highlighting the end-state Paul contemplates in Ephesians. One comes from Paul's own writings and the other from John.

16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Romans 8:16-17)

We are to be glorified and to be joint-heirs with Christ (though there is a very important if clause in verse 17).

2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

We are to be like Him. We are to be pure as He is pure, and glorified as He is glorified.

Clearly, we aren't there yet (and Paul made no pretense of claiming to be perfect yet himself, either). Whether we refer to this as progressive sanctification or progressive transformation may be just semantics.

Being filled up to all the fullness of God is a process that renders God's children as He is. Being filled with the Spirit is a recurring event that leads to this. Of the options listed in the OP, this would be most similar to option 3.

For a discussion on sanctification sometimes describing a process and sometimes describing an event, see my thoughts here. God will set us apart, change us, and elevate us as much as we permit Him to do so.


The idea of the "fullness of God" occurs sparingly, but significantly in just five places in the NT:

  • Eph 1:22, 23 - And God put everything under His feet and made Him head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
  • Eph 3:19 - of the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
  • Eph 4:13 - until we all may attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a complete man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ
  • Col 1:19 - For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him
  • Col 2:9 - For in Him [Jesus] all the fullness of the Deity dwells bodily.

There are several things that become immediately obvious when examining this survey:

  1. When applied to Christ (as in Col 1:19, 2:9), the fullness of God dwelling is an accomplished fact
  2. When applied to sinful humans, it is not an accomplished fact because we need to know the love of God, and the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of Christ in order that we may attain to the fullness of God/Christ.

Ellicott summarizes this well:

That ye might be filled with (or, rather, up to) all the fulness of God.—This clause must be taken as dependent, not merely on the clause immediately preceding, but on the whole sentence. It describes the final and glorious consequence of the indwelling of Christ in the heart, viz., the “being filled” with grace “up to the fulness of God.” The meaning is more clearly seen in the fuller expression below (Ephesians 4:13): “till we all come . . . to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” It is simply perfect conformation to the image of Him in whom “dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9), and whose fulness is therefore the “fulness of God,” manifesting all the attributes of the divine nature. The process is described in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory;” its consummation in 1 John 3:2, “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.” (Comp. Philippians 3:20-21.)

That is, the fullness of God is attained only at glorification. The path to achieving this final state of perfection is by having the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who miraculously transforms us into the image of Christ and His perfect Character. For details of this miraculous transformation, see the appendix below.

Thus, being "filled with the Holy Spirit" as in Eph 5:18 [for a more detailed description, see Does the expression "(to be) filled with the Spirit" denote a temporary experience or a permanent state of being? as noted by the OP] should be a daily/constant experience for every Christian; Attaining to the "fullness of God" is something that will only finally occur when we meet Jesus personally.

That is, being filled with the Spirit is the mechanism of a process whose final end is the fullness of God.

Therefore, of the OP's options, none appear to exactly match the Bible meaning. In other words:

  • being filled with the Spirit is a daily process of "Growing into Christ"
  • The fullness of God is attained at glorification when Jesus returns when we will finally and fully reflect Jesus (1 John 3:2)

The first leads (ultimately) to the second.

APPENDIX - "Sanctification"

In the New Testament the word “sanctification” is a translation of the Greek hagiasmos, and is equivalent to the Hebrew qadesh. Both mean holiness, consecration, sanctification, from the verb form meaning “to make holy” or “to set apart from common use”.

The verb form, hagiazo, to sanctify or set apart, in the New Testament tells us that God’s sanctifying influence on the believer is via His Truth and Word (John 17:17, 19, Acts 20:32) by faith in Jesus (Acts 26:18, 1 Cor 1:2, 2 Tim 2:21, Heb 10:10, 29 ) through the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:16, 1 Cor 6:11). Note that these verbs are past tense, and discuss sanctification as a completed act (see also Heb 13:12).

Thus, when a person is converted and becomes set apart for Christ (ie, becomes a Christian) the person immediately becomes a “saint” or “holy one” (Rom 1:7, 1 Cor 1:2, Phil 1:1, etc.). Sometimes these saints are called “elect” or “chosen” (Matt 24:22, 24, 31, Mark 13:20, 22, 27, Rom 11:7, 1 Tim 5:21, 2 Tim 2:10, Tit 1:1, 1 Peter 1:1), or the pure or purified (Matt 5:8; 2 Cor 11:2, Titus 1:15, 1 Peter 1:22). That is, as far as the Christian is concerned, sanctification (in the Biblical sense) occurs at conversion as a decision to follow Jesus, and occurs at some point in (past) time.

Notice that a state of partial sanctification is unknown in the Bible – an object or person is either sanctified or it is not (1 Thess 5:23).

In modern theology, the word “sanctification” is used in a quite different (extra-Biblical) sense of a growing into Christ, Christian development and character building. This is not to suggest that the idea is unbiblical, but rather that the Bible uses different terminology. That is, there is a difference between Bible sanctification and theological sanctification. Here is a sample:

  • But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:2, 3
  • But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall. 2 Peter 1:9, 10.
  • Notice the developing pattern, the saved person continues to make the decision to be one of the elect or pure by keeping separate from the world: Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Phil 3:16. This text tells us to act in accordance with our decision to follow Jesus and to be one of the “saints”.
  • But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Tim 6:11, 12.
  • We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. Rom 6:4.
  • Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. Rom 12:1, 2.
  • Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. 2 Cor 7:1.
  • Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Eph 4:15, 16.
  • But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:13, 14.
  • So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Col 2:6, 7.
  • Epaphras…is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. Col 2:12
  • His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 2 Peter 1:3, 4.
  • Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 3:17, 18

Note the consistent pattern in scripture – continue the decision made at conversion to be sanctified (set apart) for Christ. That is, the continuing decision for Bible Sanctification results in Theological Sanctification via the miraculous work of God.

  • 1
    What do you mean here? "That is, the continuing decision for Bible Sanctification results in Theological Sanctification via the miraculous work of God." What/who's decision are you talking about? What's the concept of continuing biblical Sanctification if you're making the case that it is a accomplished act? What is theological Sanctification? Not sure you defined the term.
    – Austin
    Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 15:03
  • 1
    @Austin - Bible sanctification occurs at conversion when a person decides to dedicate themselves to God's service. Some will ultimately turn away, so there must be a constant, continuing decision to be dedicated to God. The miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to replicate the life and character of Jesus is what modern theology calls sanctification which the Bible calls, "growing into Christ" and many other terms.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 21:40
  • Thanks, Dottard. I'm not not a big fan using biblical terms in non biblical ways. Thanks for pointing that out.
    – Austin
    Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 22:14

The answer to this question could take volumes. And both Dottard and Hold To The Rod have hit major points. But essentially you are looking at the difference between knowledge versus love; the knowledge God provided through His word versus the love of God. The beginning of knowledge comes from hearing the word (Rom. 10:17), resulting in faith in Christ for those who believe and obey (Matt 7:26; Luke 11:28; John 5:24), which is only possible because of the love of Christ and the love of God (John 3:16), which leads us to emulate and grow into that fullness of God’s love.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit had immediate results of speaking the word of the Holy Spirit. It is the knowing, followed by the speaking.

”and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, according as the Spirit was giving them to declare.” (Acts 2:4, YLT)

”44 While Peter is yet speaking these sayings, the Holy spirit fell upon all those hearing the word, 45 and those of the circumcision believing were astonished -- as many as came with Peter -- because also upon the nations the gift of the Holy Spirit hath been poured out, 46 for they were hearing them speaking with tongues and magnifying God." (Acts 10:44-46, YLT)

”...and Paul having laid on them [his] hands, the Holy Spirit came upon them, they were speaking also with tongues, and prophesying," (Acts 19:6, YLT)

” ...but be filled in the Spirit, 19 speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,” (Eph. 5:18-19, YLT)

Those that were filled with the Holy Spirit were filled with the knowledge of His word and were speaking those words of the Holy Spirit. He filled them with His words.

Prophesying – speaking the words the Holy Spirit gave them

Praying In public – speaking the words the Holy Spirit gave them

Tongues / languages – speaking in other languages the words the Holy spirit gave them

Interpreting – translating the words the Holy Spirit gave them

The miracle of the gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and at the house of Cornelius was of the knowledge of the words of God. The miracle of the 1st century AD was that instantaneous access to the knowledge, the filling up with the knowledge the Holy Spirit provided that caused them to speak His words to others. Today, we have to work at and study to obtain that knowledge. But it is at our fingertips through His scriptures which the Holy Spirit has maintained for us. It is the knowing.

”`This [is] the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, giving My laws on their hearts, and upon their minds I will write them,'” (Heb. 10:16, YLT, from Jer. 31:33)

That indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the indwelling of His word which is written on our hearts. The growth in the knowledge of His word brings faith, and more faith, and more knowledge, and more faith which results in love, and more love to the fullness of the love that God has for us that He gave His only begotten Son to save us.

All of the miracles of healing, and casting out demons, etc. were performed by God through prayer to confirm the words that were spoken by the people who had received the Holy Spirit. Those miracles were always to confirm the word (1 Kings 17:21-24; Acts 2:22; Acts 19:11-12; James 5:13-15).

See how this knowledge then results in the love that we are to have for God and for one another “unto” the fullness of God’s love. This is Paul’s prayer.

Eph. 3:14-21 -

”14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 of whom the whole family in the heavens and on earth is named,

16 that He may give to you, according to the riches of His glory, with might to be strengthened through His Spirit, in regard to the inner man,17 that the Christ may dwell through the faith in your hearts, in love having been rooted and founded,

18 that ye may be in strength to comprehend, with all the saints, what [is] the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, 19 to know also the love of the Christ that is exceeding the knowledge, that ye may be filled -- to all the fulness of God;

20 and to Him who is able above all things to do exceeding abundantly what we ask or think, according to the power that is working in us, 21 to Him [is] the glory in the assembly in Christ Jesus, to all the generations of the age of the ages. Amen." (YLT)

Not with, but to, or unto the fullness of God. Paul’s prayer that we might be filled unto is a measure of capacity, as the goal we are to attain.

Excerpt from Expositor’s Greek -

”The εἰς cannot mean with or in, as it is taken by some, but must = “into” or “unto,” expressing the measure up to which the being filled is to take effect, the limit of the filling, or the goal it has before it. The AV and the other Old English Versions erroneously give “with”; except Wicl., who makes it “in,” Cov., who renders “into,” and Rhem., “unto”. …

It brings the whole paragraph to a conclusion worthy of itself, lifting us to a conception which surpasses all that has preceded it, and carrying us from the great idea of the fulness in Christ to the still greater idea of the fulness in God. Nor is it any valid objection to it that what is thus put before us is what can never be attained in this life. It is an ideal, essentially the same as that contained in the injunction to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).“ Source: Biblehub

Excerpt from Gill’s Exposition -

”Now the apostle prays, that these saints might know more of this love; that their knowledge, which was imperfect, might be progressive. ..” Source: Ibid

Excerpt from Vincent’s Word Studies -

”Note the recurrence of that; that He would grant you; that ye may be strong; that ye may be filled. With is better rendered unto, to the measure or standard of. Fullness of God is the fullness which God imparts through the dwelling of Christ in the heart; Christ, in whom the Father was pleased that all the fullness should dwell (Colossians 1:19), and in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead (Colossians 2:9).” Source: Ibid

Paul’s prayer in Eph. 3:14-19 is a process that grows from being filled with the knowledge of God’s word, through the faith of that word in our hearts, to the fullness of God’s love for us.

Further thoughts at :

Testing the Spirits – Part V (a) - ShreddingTheVeil

Testing the Spirits – Part V (b) - ShreddingTheVeil

Testing the Spirits – Part V (c) - ShreddingTheVeil

  • The miracle of the 1st century AD was that instantaneous access to the knowledge, the filling up with the knowledge the Holy Spirit provided that caused them to speak His words to others. Today, we have to work at and study to obtain that knowledge. - I would like to know the basis for this claim. Otherwise, interesting answer.
    – user38524
    Commented Aug 6, 2022 at 12:31
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - How else would they begin to instantly prophesy and to speak other languages. It is implicit in the scriptures of Acts 2, 10, and 19. Whereas the Holy Spirit fell upon them at that time, He has left us His written record for us to read and learn. Those who want to know God seek Him out through His word, which then dwells in our heart. When the Holy Spirit fell upon them they had immediate knowledge. They became His messengers, and mouth pieces.
    – Gina
    Commented Aug 6, 2022 at 13:20
  • Sorry, I meant specifically the basis for the last sentence Today, we have to work at and study to obtain that knowledge, which sets a contrast between "today" and "back then" (previous sentence). Sounds like you are a cessationist. Dottard and Hold To The Rod are both continuationists.
    – user38524
    Commented Aug 6, 2022 at 13:51
  • Yes, I know this argument that the miracles of the 1st cent. are on-going. We don't have instant miraculous knowledge like a zap from the sky. We have to open the Bible and read it, study it, learn it. We hear it from the pulpit, & from others who preach it. Rom. 10:17. The Bereans were checking Paul by reading the OT scriptures. Do you know of anyone today who is immediately speaking God's word w/o having first read it from the scriptures? The basis for the cessation position is the definition of "the last days". As they were not speaking of the end of all time, but...
    – Gina
    Commented Aug 6, 2022 at 14:08
  • ...the end of the old Mosaic covenant which ended when that temple fell in AD 70, then Peter's statement on the day of Pentecost in 30-31 AD "this is that spoken... that in the last days..." then the prophesy of the pouring forth of Spirit was also time limited by the definition of the last days of the old Mosaic Covenant. The old Mosaic covenant ended in AD 70, ergo that prophesy ended in AD 70. Please read the links I added in the post where I prove this from the scriptures.
    – Gina
    Commented Aug 6, 2022 at 14:13
  1. We have been given fullness in Christ. (Colossian 2:10).

  2. Paul prays that we would experience the fullness we have been given. (Ephesians 3:19).

  3. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, (as described in Ephesians 5:18-20) leads to the experience of our fullness in Christ.

  • 1
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